Kentucky women set for NCAA opener vs Navy
Hanging in front of the Kentucky locker room is a picture of the
Final Four logo with a clock next to it.
Ever since the first day of practice back in early October, that
clock has been counting down the days and minutes until the Final
Four in New Orleans. Now with the NCAA tournament here, the
second-seeded Wildcats hope to be in Louisiana at their first Final
Four when the clock reaches zero.
Kentucky will open up its NCAA tournament Sunday against No. 15
Navy. Seventh-seed Dayton will play No. 10 St. John’s in the second
”You have no chance of winning the national championship if you
don’t get to the Final Four,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell
said. ”We’re focused on our region and trying to advance through
it and win our four games.”
The Wildcats made the regional final last season before falling
to Connecticut. The two teams potentially could meet again in the
Kentucky (27-5), which is coming off a disappointing loss in the
SEC title games to Texas A&M, has made the NCAA tournament four
straight seasons and matched its best seeding.
”It’s very exciting to have an opportunity to be a number 2
seed,” Kentucky senior A’dia Mathies said. ”Our ultimate goal is
to go to the Final Four and it’s achievable.”
The Midshipmen (21-11) are making their third straight trip to
the NCAA tournament after winning the Patriot League tournament.
Navy lost to Maryland last season and DePaul the year before.
”The big thing we learned is coming in confident and just have
some fun out there,” junior center Jade Geif said. ”We’re going
to miss shots and they’re going to make shots. We know it’s a 15
vs. 2 seed, we’ll do what we can.”
No 15 seed has ever won an NCAA tournament game and Navy is
trying to buck a losing trend by the Patriot League which has
dropped its past 20 games in the tournament since Holy Cross
knocked off Maryland in 1991.
That doesn’t deter the Mids coach Stefanie Pemper was an
assistant for Harvard when the Crimson pulled off the first and
only upset by a 16 seed over No. 1 Stanford in 1998.
”It’s going to be a big challenge,” Pemper said. ”We’ll get a
really good breakfast and get our rest and just dig down. The NCAA
tournament is the most inspiring arena to play in as an athlete.
They’ll have much harder physical challenges ahead in their
While Navy has won its conference tournament the past three
seasons, Dayton (27-2) has made the NCAA tournament the past four
seasons – earning an at-large bid in three of them. It shows how
far the Flyers have come in the past few seasons.
”We’re not just happy being here anymore,” Dayton coach Jim
Jabir said. ”It’s the highest seed we ever had. We want to play on
Tuesday, very, very badly. Just getting that first game in and
going home is not enough for this team. To be a national program we
need to get out of the first weekend and that’s a goal.”
It’s been a record season for Dayton as the Flyers won their
first Atlantic 10 regular season title before falling to Saint
Joseph’s in the conference tournament semifinals. The team has
already surpassed the school record for wins and is in its fourth
straight NCAA tournament.
Not bad for a squad that lost a lot to graduation last year and
has the sixth youngest roster in the country. The Flyers used a
balanced offense that features four different players averaging in
”The six returners that we had coming back got together and
wanted this not be a rebuilding year,” senior Sam MacKay said.
While the Flyers’ roster had huge turnover, the Red Storm return
most of their team from last season’s regional semifinal run. The
biggest change was at head coach when assistant Joe Tartamella took
over for Kim Barnes Arico, who left for Michigan.
The Red Storm (18-12) struggled in the early part of the season,
losing three games in the final possession before turning it around
with victories in eight of their last 10 games. The Red Storm have
reached the past four NCAAs after only making it four times total
before their current run.
”It’s extra gratifying,” Tartamella said. ”The seniors get to
go out playing in four straight tournaments. Our goal has always
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